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Newsmaker: Banksy

  • Story Highlights
  • British graphic artist's identity remains a mystery despite huge popularity
  • Feted by the art world and Hollywood celebrities count among his collectors
  • Despite popularity local authorities have removed his public works
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Banksy is Britain's most wanted artist -- his art sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars, but he continues to use public spaces as his main canvas, while all the time keeping his identity a secret.

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Banksy's latest piece in East London where a passer-by claims to have taken a photo of the artist.

The guerilla artist has been spray painting his stencils around Britain and further afield for over ten years. Last week ten of his original pieces were sold at Bonham's auction house in London for over $1 million, while on the other side of the city Tower Hamlets council authority pledged to remove his graffiti from its streets.

From his beginnings as a graffiti artist in Bristol, England, Banksy has become the darling of the art world for his subversive and satirical public art. Depicting things such as riot police with smiley acid-house faces and camera-wielding rats, his work is now sold now by major art galleries.

Lazarides Gallery in London is one of the main dealers of his work and describes him as "a media star...but popular long before any of this high-profile activity -- simply because the people love his stuff."

While he set out to lampoon the establishment, he has now been wholeheartedly embraced by it. Fans include Hollywood A-listers, including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and Christina Aguilera who bought three of his prints in 2006, including one of Queen Victoria sitting on a woman's face. The recent sales of his work put him on a par with Jean-Michel Basquiat as the best-selling street artist.

He is feted by art dealers and artists, including Damien Hirst, but he regularly mocks the art world that is so enthralled by him with ingenious stunts such as hanging his own work in the Tate gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It took the British Museum eight days to discover the "prehistoric" rock painting of a man with a shopping trolley in the British Museum Banksy has hung on a wall.

There is often a political message with this work, too. He left an inflatable doll dressed as a Guantanamo prisoner in Disneyland and painted a hole with blue sky on the Palestinian side of the West Bank wall.

Despite the huge popularity and exposure of his work, Banksy's identity remains a mystery. As he operates on the fringes of the law with his guerilla art it makes sense, but also adds to his mystique. Some things are know: he's originally from Bristol, is around 30 years old and called Robert or Robin Banks, but it's been reported that even his parents are thought to believe that he makes his living as a painter and decorator.

He continues to divide opinion as to whether his work is vandalism or public art. Veteran British art critic Brian Sewell called Banksy, "a complete clown, and what he does has absolutely nothing to do with art."

Bristol city council has recognized the popularity and artistic merit of his work by protecting a number of pieces around the city. Other local authorities don't feel the same way. Tower Hamlets and Hackney councils in London have pledged to remove his graffiti from their streets.

His latest work painted on a wall in East London -- a man in overalls resting next to a giant flower drawn as a continuation from the double yellow lines on the road -- is thought to be the artist's response.

But this latest piece may also have revealed what the artist actually looks like. A passer-by took a photo of what is thought to be the artist at work. A spokesperson for Banksy refused to confirm it was him, but did say it was definitely his work. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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